With the overload of information that the digital world has introduced to us and the increasing ease of replicating material, it is all too easy to be confused about the legality of the use of copyright material. As a general rule, if you want to avoid copyright infringement it is always safe to say: get permission. In practice, there are certain key pointers you can keep in mind in order to avoid copyright infringement.

Determine whether copyright has expired

If copyright has expired, the use of that copyright material would not be an infringement. It was previously common knowledge that after 50 years from the time of a creator’s death, their copyright protection would automatically expire. Now, determining whether or not copyright has expired is a bit more difficult since the ratification of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) in 2005. The AUSFTA extended the period of copyright protection to 70 years and it has now become more difficult to determine when this rule applies compared to the previous 50 year duration. In any case, it would be important to confirm whether or not copyright still exists for the material you intend to use, as it would determine your responsibility in contacting the copyright owner for permission.

Find out if your use would be considered “fair dealing”

Before trying to figure out whether or not you have infringed another party’s copyright, you can also try to determine whether your use would fall under the exception of fair dealing. This means that you have to use the copyright material for a specific purpose, which can include study, research, criticism, broadcasting news, parody or satire, to name a few. You will also need to confirm that your use would be considered fair. To that extent, factors such as author acknowledgement, genuity of purpose such as criticism or the commercial aspect of the use may be taken into consideration. A lawyer will best be able to assist in determining whether your use would fall under “fair dealing”.

Understand the small print

Often creators of copyright may be happy to offer the use of their copyright material at no cost. The authorisation you may receive from the use of copyright material is defined as a licence. Although the licence may be free, it is important to acknowledge the terms and conditions for your use. Many copyright creators, for example, would require their authorship to be acknowledged. Others may also only allow the free use of the material if your use does not lead to any commercial benefit.

Consider the portion of the copyright you are using

In many cases, you do need to be using a substantial part of the copyright material in order to be in infringement. A substantial part refers to an essential or distinctive part of the material. A lawyer can help to determine whether your intended use would amount to a substantial part.


In most circumstances, the best way to avoid copyright infringement is to seek permission from the copyright owner. A lawyer can provide you with legal advice to determine whether or not your use of the copyright material would fall under the above categories or if your use would be considered an infringement. Speak to our specialist lawyers at LegalVision to get advice before you use copyright material!

Kristine Biason

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